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Published:February 5th, 2010 10:53 EST
White Phosphorus as a Battlefield Weapon

White Phosphorus as a Battlefield Weapon

By David Bedworth

There are a terrible lot of lies going around the world, and the worst of it is half of them are true. "  Sir Winston Churchill.

            There are a number of articles on the internet that decry the US use of white phosphorus munitions as a weapon.  The main outcry appears to be that the effects of white phosphorus on the civilian population who have been caught up in the fighting and bear the horrible wounds inflicted upon those that have the misfortune to be near when it detonates.  There is no doubt that these unfortunate individuals have been harmed by a substance that burns through skin and bone with impunity.

            American and NATO forces have used white phosphorus.  It has been a weapon deployed in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  The inherent danger to the civilian population is known to US and NATO Commanders.  Therefore white phosphorus is not used indiscriminately as many would like us to believe.  For example, it is not a weapon of choice.  White phosphorus has limitations as an ammunition type in that it is primarily used for marking a target or a creating a smoke screen.  With modern state-of-the-art laser guidance technology, white phosphorus is becoming obsolete as an indicator of where to accurately apply bombs, artillery and mortars.  Similarly, white phosphorus has limitations as a smoke screen in that it only displays one color upon detonation (white).  Today`s modern military tactical maneuver of forces usually needs more than one color of smoke.  White phosphorus also has an adjunct incendiary effect that smoke munitions do not.  Setting fire to the environment does not make for the discreet movement and control of military forces when engaged in conflict.

            However, it is worth reviewing the overall scenario when wounded civilians show up at a field hospital manned by alleged humanitarian groups showing signs of injuries from white phosphorus.  First the injured civilians almost always come from an area of conflict that has been controlled by insurgent forces.  These insurgent forces have historically shown no qualms in inflicting injuries upon the indigenous civilian population in order to portray the US led conflict in a negative manner.  Lal Mohamed, an Afghan Farmer, recently had his nose and ears cut off by Taliban forces because he dared to walk to his local polling center with a voting card.  The fifteen Iraqi civilians killed at Haditha, Iraq in November 2005 were utilized by insurgents in such a way that the tactical assault by Marines would ensure maximum civilian death and injuries.  High ranking Taliban leaders were paying $1,275 to militants who managed to throw acid in the faces of Afghan girls who were guilty of the heinous crime of attending school.  Given the insurgent historical trend to abuse the civilian population it does not take a great leap of faith to foresee the possibility that insurgents would use white phosphorus on those civilians in their area of operations in order to create the impression that the US and Allies had used white phosphorus indiscriminately.

            There are forty-four documented instances of Taliban forces using white phosphorus in Afghanistan.  There is no doubt that reasons for this use are ambiguous given their past tendency to abuse the civilian population.  For America the legal use of white phosphorus is clear.  The Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, in Protocol III, prohibits the use of all air-delivered incendiary weapons against civilian populations.  The United States is not a signatory to Protocol III.  However,British Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Sir Menzies Campbell recently stated that . . . the use of this weapon may technically have been legal, but its effects are such that it will hand a propaganda victory to the insurgency.  The denial of use followed by the admission will simply convince the doubters that there was something to hide".

            Now this may come as a shock to Ming " Campbell but our enemy can read.  Statements by political figures of his stature are analyzed and acted upon in the same way that North Vietnam did during the Vietnam conflict.  These enemies know that our democracy is our weakness in that lack of support for conflict will eventually undermine support for the counter-terrorist action and those nations fighting terror will lose the desire to win.  In the case of Vietnam our country lost 58,159 lives and South Vietnam.  If we lose the war on terror we will lose everything we hold dear as our western, Christian culture will be forced to submit to a version of Sharia Law that is murky enough to elude specific definition in this article.  The terrorist enemy does not care how long this subjugation takes, nor do they care how they attain success.  Any acts will justify the means and this has proven to be the case whether it was the World Trade Center or the use of white phosphorus among civilian population in areas of conflict.

So while the topic of white phosphorus seems like a small matter in the larger scheme of events, it is yet another aspect of how our very clever, resourceful enemy can adapt tactics and strategy in a manner that causes harm to our response to the terror effort.  Each concession that we make to accommodate a perceived wrong " in the fight against terror will only serve to undermine our ability to succeed and survive as the great nation we have become.  The final word is best left to Sir Winston Churchill:

An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last. "